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Go Back       Himalayan Journal of Education and Literature | Volume:2 Issue:2 | March 10, 2021
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DOI : 10.47310/Hjel.2021.v02i02.009       Download PDF       HTML       XML

Research Article

Effects of Colonialism on the Bukusu Culture in Bungoma County of Kenya between 1900 And 1970

Moses W. Satia, Koyi Solomon and Mukhwana D. Mukangai

Mount Kenya University, Kenya

*Corresponding Author

Moses W. Satia

Article History

Received: 15.02.2020

Accepted: 05.03.2021

Published: 10.03.2021


Moses W. Satia, Koyi Solomon and Mukhwana D. Mukangai (2021); Effects of Colonialism on the Bukusu Culture in Bungoma County of Kenya between 1900 And 1970. Hmlyan Jr Edu Lte, 2(2) 61-75.

Copyright @ 2021: This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution license which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium for non commercial use (NonCommercial, or CC-BY-NC) provided the original author and source are credited.

Abstract: This research investigated effects of colonialism on the Bukusu culture in Bungoma between 1900 and 1970. In this context, the study examined the colonial disruption of the culture that the Bukusu people had established and relied throughout the pre-colonial era. Having been conducted in Bungoma County, the study is rich in the indigenous cultural values of the Babukusu which were eroded by the colonial regime in a span of seventy years under review. It also suggests possible solutions that can help to revive the lost aspect of the Bukusu culture. The significance of the study is to add new knowledge to the existing pool of knowledge on the impact of colonialism on the Bukusu culture in Bungoma between 1900 and 1970. The study covers a period of seventy years from 1900 when Europeans arrived in Bungoma to 1970 when they finalized their departure. The study is limited to the narrative around which the colonial influence of the Bukusu culture revolved for seven decades. The Literature Review examines the missionary activities that propelled the colonial intention that ushered in Bungoma European civilization that heavily impacted the indigenous culture of the Babukusu. Due to limited research in this field, this document is an additional source of information on colonial civilization and investment in Bungoma that forced Africans into cultural change through missionary work that was evident in churches and schools. The Theoretical Framework draws findings is based on the Superiority Theory on which Europeans founded their argument that they were a superior race endowed by God and history to impose their civilization on the African cultures as seen among the Babukusu of Bungoma between 1900 and 1970. The research was conducted in Bungoma County which has many tribes where the Babukusu are the majority. The research design was based on the historical method, analytical method and interview method that were collectively used to source information on the impact of colonialism on the Bukusu culture in Bungoma County between 1900 and 1970 through examination of primary sources including archival manuscripts, letters, diaries, memoirs, charters, files, memoranda and registers which were complimented by oral submissions and secondary sources including books, journal articles, research works, reports, newspaper articles, magazines and periodicals. Sampling Techniques used were purposive and snowball. Data was collected from respondents, church leaders and the National Archives. The study themes were paraded into three periods of twenty years each and one period of ten years for chronological analysis. Since the research is qualitative in nature, data analysis is descriptive and therefore presented as a narrative. Ethical Considerations included respondents signing the consent form before their inclusion in the study, voluntary participation of the informants, observation of confidentiality, treating sensitive information with caution and ensuring that the information given was used exclusively for research purposes.

Keywords: colonialism, culture, colonies, impact .

Background to the Study

Culture refers to social, political and economic achievements that characterize human existence. The Bukusu are among the 18 sub-tribes of the Abaluyia community of Western Kenya. The pre-colonial Bukusu culture was based on traditional pillars that embraced cultural values that were handed down by one generation to another over the years. The tribe was composed of many clans, each of which occupied a village led by the village headman who was answerable to the Council of Elders (Ekokwa) whose members were rainmakers, herbalists and diviners, among others. Their main functions were to settle disputes, distribute land and were the final Court of Appeal. After circumcision, young people of the same generation formed age-sets that became warriors who defended the community against external aggression. Due to their skill of iron smelting and working, the Bukusu made iron tools including spears, knives, hoes and sickles among others.1

The term Bukusu was derived from a nickname given to certain ancestors then known as Banabayi (People of Mbayi). It is believed that the Banabayi entrepreneurs used Butiru Hills as their bases from which they traded their merchandise up to the shores of the Lake Victoria (Enyanja ya Walule). Banabayi engaged in barter trade where they exchanged iron products for other items at low prices. Since Banabayi’s low prices were characteristic of their trade, other possibly Luyia speaking groups began to refer to these traders as Babandu be bukusi meaning ‘the people who sell’. This reference seems to have been warmly received by Banabayi who gradually adopted the shortened form bukusi: On its own, the word ‘bukusi’ means ‘to sell’. However, it is not known how this term “bukusi” changed to become “Bukusu”. Historians agree that Banabayi became the earliest group to be referred to as Babukusu whereas their earliest jurisdiction changed its name from Butiru to Bukusu Hills. From Bukisu and Tororo regions, Babukusu entered their present territory West of Mt Elgon in small clan organizations. A crucial place associated with Babukusu's early settlement is Mwiala wa Mango, situated in the eastern part of Uganda and just across the Kenya-Uganda border when one approaches it through the Malaba route. The place is important due to the following reasons: Firstly, unlike earlier places, Mwiala is directly associated with its leader, Mango of Bakhurarwa clan who is remembered by the Babukusu due to his unusual courage which enabled him to single-handedly kill a deadly serpent (Endemu ya Bebe) that had terrorized and killed numerous people including some of his children. Secondly, this killing of the serpent introduced the art of circumcision in Bukusuland where young boys began to undergo the ritual under the watch of the public. Public circumcision of the Bukusu boys replaced the earlier secret practice that was privately undertaken at family level and did not compel people’s participation as a tribal practice. Thirdly, it was while Babukusu were at Mwiala wa Mango that they attempted to learn about the identity of their neighbours who had settled at Mwalie and with whom they closely interacted through trade and intermarriage. By early 19th century, the Babukusu were land cultivators, iron workers and smelters and livestock keepers who supplemented their diet with hunting and gathering. In their land cultivation practice, they grew millet, sorghum, bananas, yams, cassava, simsim, pumpkin, vegetables and so on. Some of their foodstuffs included eleusine meal (Menula), pumpkin (Kamaondo), bananas (Kamatore) as well as millet and sorghum beer (Kamalwa). In their iron working and smelting, they manufactured iron tools including hoes (Chimbako), spears (Kamafumo), hummers (Chinyuli) and many others. They kept livestock including cattle (Chikhafu), goats (Chimbusi), sheep (Kamakhese) that were used for cleansing purposes. These domestic animals provided them with milk (kamabele), blood (Kamalasile), meat (Enyama), and hides (kamasielo) for making traditional clothing (Kamakuti). Their foodstuffs were supplemented by hunting and gathering. They hunted wild game like antelopes (Chihisi), gazelles (Chimbongo), buffaloes (Chimboko), hares (Chinduyu) and gathered of honey (Bubukhi), wild fruits including kamakosi and chifutu, edible roots and leaves, birds like chisindu, chikhuchuru (Quells), kamakhanga (Guinea fowls); termites or chiswa including chisisi, chimome, chindawa, chinunda, kamarasi; edible mushrooms Bukhupamulusi (that which whistles), bukusuma, bumesi, bukochwe, butalamachi, bumekele. Bukusu expansion and spread from Mwiala wa Mango into their present locations of Bungoma, Mt. Elgon and Trans Nzioa emerged from encounters with neighbouring ethnic and sub-ethnic groups. The Teso were to a great extent responsible for Bukusu expansion and spread into new areas within Bungoma District. For instance, around the year 1850, Babukusu were driven from Bwayi (Mt. Ekore of Teso) by Teso invaders. Consequently, the majority of Babukusu fled into western and southwestern areas of Bungoma District. Such areas inhabited by the Bukusu included Mwalie, Siboti and the hilly country in the neighbourhood of Sirisia. Of course for Babukusu to occupy these places, Abatachoni who were earlier inhabitants were forced out to move further east. For many years, Abatachoni who lived at Mwalie and Babukusu at Mwiala wa Mango and other places stayed in isolation without full information about each other. Yet there was profound sense of curiosity which sparked them into adventure that led them to learn about the identity of those in their neighbourhood. Later, the Babukusu and the Abatachoni closely interacted and established close relations through intermarriage and shared customs. It was the Babukusu community that acted first between 1812 and 1820. During this period, Kitimule son of Wetoyi from Batukwika Bakitang'a clan was sent to Mwalie and then inhabited by some clans of Abatachoni. Kibulo was then the leader at Mwalie. Judging from oral sources, Kitimule was still an adolescent. Hence he was easily accommodated and allowed to accompany Tachoni youth on their cattle grazing missions. In this process, Kitimule observed how residents at Mwalie initiated their youths through circumcision locally referred to as okhulichana. At that time, Kitimule fell in love with Chebukwa, a girl from the Abayumbu clan. On his return to Bukusuland, Kitimule went with a bride and reported about the Abatachoni dialect and customs which were similar to those of the Babukusu. Kitimule told the Babukusu, “They [Abatachoni] are one of our people who migrated from Mbayi. We have a common language with them; when I was there recently we understood each other perfectly well.” With this report, Babukusu stopped referring to Abatachoni as 'Barwa'; a term that was used to describe Kalenjin related groups. However, the removal of the term 'Barwa' was not suitably replaced and the Abatachoni were referred as Bayumbu deriving from the clan of Kitimuli's wife. The Abatachoni was referred as Bayumbu for long. However, the rest of Abatachoni rejected this label since it subsumed the entire group instead of a particular clan. It was on such ground, that the cultural term “Abatachoni” was adopted. The relations of brotherhood and intimacy which were revived since Kitimule's mission grew and enlarged to such an extent that Babukusu and Abatachoni clans assimilated each other’s customs. Since then, the Babukusu referred to themselves as 'Siyanja barende' which means “those who love strangers. By 1894, there were several clans with similar names among both Abatachoni and Babukusu as a result of this process of assimilation. These clans comprised the Abasonge, Abakuchei, Abachemai, Abasituyi and AbamaIicha and so on. There are some clans which, though similar in both sub-ethnic groups, exist in somewhat unrelated names; these include Aba-abiya of the Abatachoni and the Bakolati of the Babukusu. To understand the closeness of the two clans one needs to analyze the various components of the Aba-abiya. Indeed, under Aba-abiya are Abakolati, Abamuruli and Abamumbwa. But with passage of time, people from the two clans intermarried because they considered themselves as different from each other. The similarity between Abatachoni and Babukusu did not rule out occasional tension between them. 2

The Bukusu kept chicken Eengokho in singular and chingoho plural) for meat and eggs. Pottery and weaving was vital artistic works to them. Gourds and calabashes were part of the utensils obtained from plants. Their mode of dressing was facilitated by animal skins that were cut into small pieces that only covered the human genitalia, leaving the rest of the body naked. Decoration was done by white ochre, beads, bangles and tattooing. Musical instruments included the fiddle, lyre, flute, horn and drum. Dancing was done by vigorous shaking of the shoulders. Communal work promoted their economy of affection3

The Bukusu embraced polygamy and wife inheritance. The woman belonged to the clan and divorce could not be implemented by the husband’s decision alone but involvement of the clan elders who favoureded the woman for the sake of children. Sons inherited property but girls did not. Children were taught morals through proverbs, folk tales, songs and riddles. Fornication, adultery or incest was cleansed by purification ceremonies that ensured shame on the evil-doers. The ill behaviour of such characters could dominate circumcision songs that ensured shame to the victims to make others in society fear doing the same4.

Trade existed in the pre-colonial Bukusu society. It was conducted along a common clan or tribal border on a regular basis such as weekly or fortnightly. Trade routes were important as they facilitated the easy movement of Bukusu traders from their habitation to the neighbouring lands of the Abatachoni, Abanyala, Abawanga, Abamarachi, Abahayo, Ateso, koony, Bok, Nandi and so on. This type of trade promoted good relations between the Bukusu and these neighbouring communities. This interaction through trade between Babukusu and the neighbouring communities led to the adoption of new cultural practices. The Bukusu developed trade because they had surplus products which they needed to exchange with the neighbouring communities in order to obtain what they did not have. Barter trade among the Bukusu was organized between individuals, families, clans, and later communities where they exchanged their trade goods like grains, pots, iron implements, skins and livestock. The neighbouring communities, especially those that did not have the skill of iron working, basketry and pottery acquired these products from Bukusu community through trade. Trade also led to establishment of relations with the neighbouring communities that culminated in intermarriages that helped to reduce inter-ethnic conflict or tension.

The Bukusu also practiced horrifying taboos. For instance, first born twins were killed to prevent bad omen to the family. Arranged marriages existed and did not need consent of the couple to be. Marriage partners were chosen by parents and the girl was escorted to the husband’s home by other girls in the evening after dowry had been paid including thirteen heads of cattle, a goat and other small items that elders could decide. The bodies of those who hanged themselves or drowned were cast away at night. When barren women or impotent men died, their bodies were removed through a hole made on the wall at the back of the house for burial which had no dignity. When the head of the family died at old age, his main hut which stood at the centre of the homestead was also demolished to signify his departure to the world of ancestors. Witches, wizards and night runners were condemned by society and sometimes expelled. A man cancelled his journey if a woman first met him or if his way was crossed by a guinea fowl or antelope. In essence the Bukusu culture embraced both good and terrifying cultural practices5.

In the colonial era, missionaries introduced Christianity in Bukusu land and some of the Bukusu people were converted to the new faith thereby discarding some cultural practices such as presence of shrines in homes that were condemned by the church as evil6. It is against this background that the study will investigate impact of colonialism on Bukusu culture in Bungoma, Kenya between 1900 and 1970. Furthermore, missionaries did not appreciate Bukusu names like Wanyonyi or Nanjala which were changed to European names such as John or Mary during Baptism or confirmation. The mode of dressing was modernized in that the Bukusu began wearing clothes from the West including shirts, trousers and dresses. Eating habits and food stuffs also changed and the Bukusu who were used to eating in the morning and evening began to eat breakfast comprising of tea and bread, rice and Irish potatoes for lunch and supper.

Statement of the Problem

Despite a strong Bukusu attachment to their culture as exemplified by circumcision, religious beliefs and dressing mode, these aspects of the Bukusu culture were affected much during colonialism. This research therefore, is aimed at investigating how colonialism affected the Bukusu culture between 1900 and 1970 by introducing European civilization that caused a lot of cultural changes among the Bukusu people of Bungoma County in a span of 70 years.

Literature Review

Pre-colonial Nigeria was dominated by African traditionalists in the south and Muslims in the north. The people lived according to their traditional principles. Those who hanged themselves had their bodies thrown into the evil forest at night. Superstition reigned in almost every aspect of life. A snake could not be mentioned by its name at night, evil was paid by evil, witchcraft existed and was feared by society, human sacrifice was offered, god’s presence was symbolized by the presence of the shrine with the homesteads, polygamy was practiced and wife inheritance was a common practice. Their languages were dominated by proverbs, folk tales, riddles and songs through which morals were imparted to the children. Communal work was done for food production by growing of yams, bananas, arrow roots, vegetables, cola nuts and palm trees that provided them with oil. Recreation begged on activities like wrestling as well as song and dance that took place in the evenings. Unique practices, taboos and other customary norms were strictly observed. Their councils of elders were composed by priests, prophets, diviners and herbalist7.

When the British began to colonize Nigeria, there entry was cleared by the missionaries who came with the gospel to end slave trade, convert Africans into Christianity, and promote western civilization among Africans whom they considered heathen and primitive. The missionaries felt that the gospel could only succeed if preached in an environment free from other religions. They therefore, desired to replace the African culture with European civilization. In this regard, with the demonization of the African culture and religion, some white priests attacked shrines in Nigerian villages and burnt them down claiming that those shrines were responsible for the ill luck experienced by poor members of the African communities in obtaining finances and other areas of their lives. Some of the Africans were converted to evangelize fellow Africans. When the bible was introduced to Africans of Nigeria they were made to believe that, what they had been worshiping were demons and the biblical character is God with capital “G. Though with resistance in some instances, some Africans gradually abandoned cultural practices such as killing first- born twins and casting their bodies into the evil forest and slowly adopted the Christian faith which was practiced alongside some African cultural norms8.

Impact of Colonialism on African Culture in Ghana

The Akan people of Ghana practiced a matrilineal system where maternal uncles greatly influenced family affairs. This system that operated at family level continued to be significant for many centuries. Each lineage had specific roles which included identifying and allocating new land for farming purposes, presided over marriage ceremonies and settled any emerging conflicts within their society. The Akan kings were wealthy people simply because their kingdom was full of gold mines. While the common traders could only access gold dust, the Kings possessed pure gold. The Golden Stool was an important symbol that signified peace among the Akan communities9.

The Akan people were artistically gifted as portrayed in their versed knowledge in the making of items from curved wood, basketry, fertility dolls, metal works as well as decorated clothes. While weaving in most parts of Africa was done by women, the Akan men were skillful in this art. In general, Akan industry was managed by men who learnt artistic working trough apprenticeship. The Akan women embraced clay works where they made pots of various sizes for diverse storage functions including water, traditional liquor as well as grain. Despite the various dialects, the Akan language was characterized with proverbs, riddles, songs and poems through which expressed their rich culture10.

Due to interaction with European groups which included the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, the rich Akan culture began to erode. First and foremost, the missionaries used the biblical teachings to disregard Akan culture as evil. Polygamy was condemned and those who joined the church had additional European names soon after baptism. Celibacy which was not known to Africans was enforced on the by the Roman Catholic Faith. Traditional clay vessels were slowly replaced with iron utensils from the west. Practices such as eating using hands were seen as barbaric and were replaced by use of spoons. Indeed, the Akan people who went to school spoke European languages which they were made to belief were superior to African languages. Cultural songs and dances were discouraged. Traditional instruments like lyres and fiddles could not be tolerated in the church11.

The matrilineal system of the Akan had perpetuated for centuries was interfered with as Arabs introduced patrilineal system. The missionaries were against the Akan beliefs in ancestors which were declared evil and satanic. Customary marriages were discouraged as works of darkness and church weddings were encouraged instead. Customary internal settling of disputes was replaced by courts of law used in the western world. The golden stool that had propagated unity among the Akan tribes was disregarded by Europeans. Akan crafts work such as weaving, wood curving, fertility dolls, metal works, decorated clothes and clay works were interfered with by European way of life. Traditional proverbs, folk tales, riddles and songs slowly died away and by 1900, Europeans had greatly interfered with the Akan traditions in ways that were irreversible. The same trend continued in the 20th century and by 1957 when Ghana attained her independence, the colonial impact on African culture in Ghana had reached its peak as it was accelerated by western education as well12.

Impact of Colonialism on African Culture in Congo

Traditional healers used herbs which were regarded as sacred to cure patients. Healers were approached for diverse reasons which included cure for diseases, good harvest, to become pregnant or to be told future events. During certain rituals, specific rules were followed depending on the needs of the patient. This involved: killing of chickens, chewing special herbs, uttering specific phrases or even consulting the spirits. Since the traditional healers relied on answers from spirits through dreams, the patients would be sent away until the next morining when they would return for feedback. Traditional healing powers were handed over by parents to their children through apprehetiship13. This meant that the child observed what the parent did over the years and acquired the skill of healing if he or she practiced in the society. Traditional medicine was administered upon payment of a fee. It was believed that without a fee, the medicine would not work. In the ancient Congolese society payment was made in kind due to lack of currency.

When someone fell ill, immediate family members carried the burden of ensuring that his or her health was stabilized through medication. It was the duty of diviners to determine whether the illness came from natural force or human actions. If it was determined that a witch or enemy caused the sickness, then traditional healing methods and beliefs were used, such as offering sacrifices to God and the ancestors to remedy the situation. Congolese believed in the existence of ancestral spirits within the family. In this regard, ancestral spirits were perceived to be alive and active within the family for generations. People communicated with ancestral spirits, who were viewed as intermediaries between humans and God. People often relied on ancestoral spirits for rain, health, good crops and even solutions in times of difficulty. Pieces of white clothes were tied on trees to welcome these ancestral spirits.

Gifts were offered to the dead before the corpse was wrapped in a shroud for burial. This practice was angered on the belief that the dead person would need material wealth in the after-life. Women painted their faces with white ochre to symbolize mourning and desire for strength to overcome difficult moments. The Congolese were well versed with traditional arts which included masks, iron works, wooden statues, textiles, clay works and weaving.

When Portuguese arrived in the Congo by early 1500s, the people of Congo were well rooted in their own cultural system which included religious practices. God’s dwelling place was symbolized by natural features like trees and caves which portrayed his presence among his people. They also had a strong belief in life after death which was signified by belief in spirits of ancestors to whom they poured libation and sacrificed animals or part of the harvest. Polygamy was regarded as an acceptable way of increasing their clans since children were valued for generational continuity. The Portuguese, however, did not seek to understand the traditional ways of the people of Congo. Instead, they simply rubbished African culture and religion as evil practices. Without consultation with Africans, they introduced Christianity and applied principles like celibacy which were unacceptable in African culture. In addition, European way of life was promoted and given preference by the Portuguese as a superior culture to African cultural trends. These practices negatively influenced African culture to the extent that some Africans hated their own culture and desired European civilization14.

With time, however, the Europeans did not show a spirit of brotherhood which was championed by the Bible. In his letter to the missionaries attending a Christian conference in 1883, King Leopold II showed the real intention of the Belgians in the Congo. He urged the missionaries to convert all the blacks using the whip. He encouraged them to use phrases of the Bible for calming Africans. These included: “happy are peace makers, for they shall be called the children of God,” “servants, obey your masters,” and so forth. Indeed, the colonial labour system was so bad so that African men were kept away from their families for months and were subjected to hard labour in the rubber plantations. Such moves interfered with the propagation of the African culture since African traditional religious practices such offering sacrifices could not be undertaken by women. As this was the responsibility of men who were absent from home. King Leopold II urged the missionaries to ensure they got presents from Africans in form of chicken, eggs and goats as a sigh of recognition whenever they patrolled African villages. African way of worship, traditional song and dance, traditional musical instruments, Africans customs and beliefs were all termed evil and satanic15.

Impact of Colonialism on Khoikhoi and San Cultures in South Africa

The clan was the basis of political unit among the Khoikhoi. The clans were organized in order of seniority and each had a clan head. The other clan heads under the chief formed a council of elders that worked with the chief to maintain law and order as well as justice and fairness. Chieftainship was hereditary. The chief’s power was limited and decisions affecting the community were reached through consultations with other clan heads (that is) government by consensus. When a group was dissatisfied with the decision it simply broke off and moved to another territory under a new chief. Due to their nomadic life style the Khoikhoi did not develop a powerful political system16.

The San, on the other hand, were organized in small units called the “hunting bands” that consisted between 20 to 40 people. Leadership among the san was not clearly defined. They did not have councils of elders, chiefs or Kings. However, there was some degree of equality among the members of the band. Decisions affecting members were reached by consensus. Lack of clearly defined laws led to violence and war fare over hunting grounds17

The material culture of the Khoikhoi and the San relied on what the environment could provide. They obtained their food by hunting wild animals and gathering wild fruits, roots, barks of trees, leaves, insects as well as honey. They worshiped the moon as their God. They used ostrich egg shells as water containers. While men hunted for wild game, the women used sharp stones to skin the animals. They used sharp sticks to dig out edible roots. Marriage within the same clan was prohibited. While the Khoikhoi lived in temporary shelters the San lived in caves18.

In 1647, the Dutch from Holland entered South Africa and settled at Table Bay where they established the growing of oranges and vegetables. With time, they introduced the rearing of cattle for meat and milk and sheep for wool. As their number gradually increased they pushed the Khoikhoi and the San away from fertile land into the Kalahari Desert. They disregarded African culture as backward and primitive. As labour was required on European farms the Khoikhoi and the San as well as the Bantu tribes which had also migrated from Central Africa to South Africa were subjected to forced labour under deplorable conditions. The discrimination that ensued between the whites and the blacks in South Africa was so bad that it led to apartheid system that lasted for centuries in South Africa. Africans were forced to succumb to white civilization which impacted negatively on African culture in general19.

Impact of Colonialism on African Culture in Kenya

In pre-colonial Kenya, there was belief in witchcraft and magic, that there were evil persons who were able to manipulate mysterious powers in the universe and used it to kill people, destroyed property and caused misfortunes like illness and poverty. These evil people included sorcerers, witches and those with evil eyes. Such people were motivated by jealousy and desire to harm others. Other traditional specialists like herbalists, diviners and mediums were consulted to cure people from illnesses related to witchcraft and sorcery. They also treated people who suffered from natural illness. Africans believed that wearing charms and amulets could protect one from harm by evil spirits or witchcraft. In African traditional ceremonies like birth and naming, initiation, marriage and death, some customs and rituals were observed, sacrifices were offered and certain songs and dances were performed. In some of these practices the tasting of blood from sacrificial animals were involved. Some traditional African practices involved engaging in sex before marriage or for cleansing rituals like widowhood. Some communities practiced ritual killings of human beings. For instance, sacrificing a young child to appease God in order they may have rain following drought. Others allowed the killings of one twin or both, when twin children were born. Twins were regarded as a bad omen in the community20.

European colonization of Kenya heavily impacted indigenous cultures especially between 1900 and 1970. Europeans had a notion that Africans were devoid of religion and were therefore, primitive and heathen. Through missionary activities, Europeans used the church and western education to minimize African cultural beliefs. For instance, in early 1920s, Europeans did not welcome African cultural practices and beliefs in their mission schools. Staunch African traditionalists, on the other hand, were not ready to eradicate their cultural beliefs in favour of Christianity. This religious clash made Africans to establish their own independent churches and schools which incorporated western education with African cultural norms. By the 1960s, most Kenyans still held on to traditional religions. By 2000 however, Kenyans who believed in traditional religions had drastically reduced by 74%. Protestant believers increased from 7% in 1962 to 38% in 2000 while the Roman Catholic believers rose from 3.5% in 1962 to 28% by 2000. Europeans believed that they brought Christianity to Africa as a superior religion in addition to superior form of government and a more developed civilization. The colonization in Kenya changed African Culture ranching from clothing, architecture, eating habits, and so forth. African Leaders changed their dressing mode which resembled European clothing style. By following examples portrayed by those leaders, Africans degraded their clothing which they regarded as inferior to European dressing mode. These made Africans to feel that their clothing was not in fashion and they had to follow the way of the Europeans. This trend was the same in Bungoma County as well21.

Research Methodology

The research design was based on the historical method, analytical method and interview method that were collectively used to source information on the impact of colonialism on the Bukusu culture in Bungoma County between 1900 and 1970 through examination of primary sources including archival manuscripts, letters, diaries, memoirs, charters, files, memoranda and registers which were complimented by oral submissions and secondary sources including books, journal articles, research works, reports, newspaper articles, magazines and periodicals. Sampling Techniques used were purposive and snowball. Data was collected from respondents, church leaders and the National Archives. The study themes were paraded into three periods of twenty years each and one period of ten years for chronological analysis. Since the research is qualitative in nature, data analysis is descriptive and therefore presented as a narrative.


In January 1960, the British government abruptly announced that they would depart from Kenya after relinquishing power to an African government. Both European and African leaders were astounded by this unexpected change of mind by Her Majesty’s Empire. As they were still digesting this announcement, Harold MacMillan, the Prime Minister of Britain, while touring African countries confirmed this statement on 3rd January in South Africa in what he termed as “wind of change” in Africa. In 1961, DYM leaders were released by the colonial administration and the Bukusu people felt a sigh of relieve. They expected these leaders to give them direction following the announcement that the colonialists were to leave Kenya. The Bukusu had high expectations that the free land which Elijah Masinde had likened to the mothers’ breasts, air, water and sunshine would be obtained from the settlers and distributed to them. Unfortunately, neither Masinde nor DYM leaders gave direction on this matter. The ADC in Bungoma was dominated by the Bukusu so much that the Sabaot felt threatened and urged the colonial government through the 1962 Boundaries Commission to include them in Trans Nzoia so that they could belong to the Rift Valley where other Kalenjin communities lived. Unfortunately again, the colonial government did not respond positively to their request, and even if they would have agreed to move them, Trans Nzoia was at this time dominated by the same Bukusu who had rendered labour on settler farms as from 1920. The major threat that the Bukusu of Bungoma, Trans Nzoia and Lugari were facing was the disruption of their culture by other cultures following a wide spread inter-ethnic interaction.

Land issues in Kenya took a significant position in the campaigns of the two parties, KANU and KADU. At the local and national level, the electorate was often briefed about implications of the Lancaster brokered constitution by their representative political elite. In Bungoma, Mt. Elgon and Trans Nzoia, the key p1ayers were Muliro and Daniel Mossi. Muliro’s perception, as he told the 1962 Boundaries Commission, was that Kitale should form the headquarters of the Luyia dominated Western Region. In the middle of 1962, he laid a foundation stone in the middle of the sports stadium at Kitale and tried to annex it in a symbolic way as the capital of the Western Region. Muliro’s argument which was supported by Abaluyia elders was that before the Kalenjin had settled in Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu, these areas were inhabited by the Abaluyia. Significantly, leaders like Muliro were ushering the Bukusu into the modern democratic system that was quite different from the cultural monarchies that had existed in the pre colonial period. The Sabaot were still nursing their disappointments with the 1962 Boundaries Commission which left most of them in the then Elgon Nyanza (Bungoma) District contrary to their popular wish of being united with their tribes men who were in Trans Nzoia District. The Sabaot felt disadvantaged in Bungoma and wished to be moved to Trans Nzoia where they thought they could be sympathetically considered and be given more development projects by the government. The Sabaot were not happy even after receiving their own constituency and Member of Parliament, Mossi unlike in 1961 when they were represented by Muliro. Indeed that gain was insignificant considering that a good portion of what should have been transferred to Trans Nzoia was allocated to the Western Province. The area affected included Kamukuywa, Kibisi, Lugari, Matunda, Naitiri, Ndalu and Tongareni where the Bukusu culture was widely being practiced though badly disrupted by social, political and economic modernity. After rejection of the Sabaot proposal by the Boundaries Commission, they reacted by burning down the houses and granaries of the Babukusu and Abatachoni. This Sabaot act of arson went against the Bukusu cultural belief that a house, a granary and food crops were not supposed to be set ablaze because such an act would invite a curse to the destructive community. Matifari, the candidate who had challenged Mossi for the Mt. Elgon Parliamentary seat had his car set on fire in the clashes. In their anger, the Sabaot forgot their belief that Tachoni were their splinter group that moved further south and would return. In fact, in Kalenjin ‘Tachoni’ means ‘I will return’. In essence, what caused the conflict were not mainly ethnic differences but political and economic expectations and the politicization of ethnicity. However, the main fear of the Sabaot was their numerical minority in the largely Bukusu dominated Bungoma.

On the eve of independence, the Sabaot had very few primary schools. These included Kaptama, Kapsakwony, Kapkateny and Cheptais primary schools. This number contrasted with many primary schools founded in the other parts of Bungoma District where the FAM, the Catholics and the Salvation Army were actively engaged in setting up churches, elementary schools and even hospitals. In 1962, several secondary schools had come up in the non-Sabaot areas of Bungoma. They included Friends School Kamusinga that enrolled both arts and science streams for form five from which student proceeded to form six when they sat for exams that promoted them to university studies. Also Bungoma and Kibabii secondary schools were already functioning fully. This anomaly in the setting up of schools and other infrastructures during the colonial period contributed to the souring relations between Babukusu and the Sabaot. This came about in the presence of many of the Bukusu educated youth who easily out-competed their Sabaot counterparts in the few job opportunities in the Mt. Elgon area. But for the moment it is worthwhile to argue that the Babukusu and other Abaluyia benefits were mainly coincidental. The prime beneficiaries were colonialists and their agents. Education in the colonial period was aimed primarily at preparing Africans for economic exploitation by colonialists and their agents. Education was also the main agent that was used by the colonial regime to disrupt the Bukusu culture.22The History lessons were centered on European history and recommended history books were authored by Europeans. Any history about Africa was actually European history in Africa and not African history in Africa. European history in Africa contained plenty of disheartening sentiments from European missionaries and explorers who traversed Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries. For instance, they mostly saw Africans as primitive and heathen people who believe in gods and spirits of their death. For instance, Sir Samuel Baker said, “an African is primitive and heathen; he cannot turn a stone next to him to see what lies underneath”. Advanced Level Literature was also anchored on European literature or literature from the British colonial Empire. The works of William Shakespeare and other Europeans dominated the syllabus. Anything of African origin was classified as “backward” and was placed below things of European origin. The Bukusu had also been brain washed to believe that things of European origin were better than those of African origin. African proverbs were losing meaning in Bukusuland during this period. The elders who had previously been rich in proverbs now spoke plain lubukusu with very few of them. The folktales wee distorted as well. The young educated parents no longer taught their children through folktales; European story books dominated the market and were bought for children in the pretext that they enhanced children’s skills of reading and writing English. It was not unusual for children to draw human beings and colour them with crayons to appear Europeans. A mother could be heard saying “wash these clothes until they shine like those of a European” or “I want you to work hard in school so that you build me a house like that of a European”. There were cinema shows that displayed European content with European characters as a way of making Africans to believe that all good things were of European origin. Even after Kenya’s Independence, the books that were used to teach the Swahili language especially teacher’s guide were written in English with a few Swahili translations. W ith time, the people began to forget communication in Lubukusu and preferred English instead. Students were made to believe the education system made students proud of English than Lubukusu or Kiswahili. When boys came home from boarding schools, they went around their villages in school uniform to show ordinary villagers that they were in a different class and they knew English. Such boys looked down upon their colleges who knew and spoke lubukusu alone. The dressing code had completely changed. Young men could be seen moving around their villages in clean, iron clothes with “erori” on their heads. Erori was a hairstyle that was esteemed by Bukusu men: It was a hairstyle that was done on the left side of the head where some hair was brushed downwards to the left and upwards to the right so that it formed a trench-like opening. According to Patrick Wamalwa Naulikha, of Muji Village of Webuye in Bungoma County, interviewed on 10 November 2018, when a young man had made “erori” on the head and had ironed clothes on wit black rubber shoes with white soles, he easily won many girls in the village. Such boys also organized night dances which were attended by boys and girls who danced music played by the gramo-phone. The dancing arena also had traditional brew (kamalwa). When dancers had gathered in a specific hut, the gramo-phone was placed on a small table at the middle; when music was played, boys and girls danced as they went around the gramo-phone in pairs. Naulikha said that let in the night; the lamb was deliberately put off to allow boys and girls engaged in sexual immorality. Naulikha confirmed that the boys and girls who participated in such dances normally sneaked from their homes without the notice of their parents. This trend led to early teenage pregnancies that were a taboo in the Bukusu culture. Among the Babukusu, a girl who became pregnant before marriage was ridiculed by the entire society. After delivery and full recovery, she was forced to marry an old man as a second, third, fourth or fifth wife. Her bride price was lower than the usual 13 heads of cattle, one goat and other accompaniments which included honey.

There was fare interaction of different communities who lived in Bungoma, Mt. Elgon and Trans Nzoia. This interaction provided them with social comfort which displayed itself in the way they worked together in community development projects, assisted the needy, as well as intermarriages that enhanced mutual co-existence. It is imperative to note that this interaction continued even in the decolonization period. Members worked together in ploughing, planting, pasture clearing, spring protection, digging coffee holes, preparation of vegetable seed beds and even beer drinking. Besides, all the communities living in the area under study assisted each other in several ways: One mode of assistance was known among the Babukusu as khukhwekekhana which signified “reliance on each other”. This was a process in which a person assisted a needy relative or friend with a cow, an ox or generally several cattle. The strategy in that form of assistance was to gradually enable the recipient to have access to milk, manure, cow dung or ploughing oxen. Indeed, this was the propagation of the spirit of the Economy of Affection that existed in Africa in the pre-colonial period. In essence, the African way of life was anchored on caring for one another. The Babukusu, just like other Africans living elsewhere on the continent clang to each other in a warm and mutual spirit of affection. This was a way to remove loneliness and extent happiness to all. The system was supportive and facilitated enablement of those who were poor. Such cattle when allowed to stay at the recipient's home for a longer period and on being reclaimed, the owner gave a token price often in form of a calf or its equivalent in appreciation for the care the recipient had undertaken in looking after the cattle. From such gesture, a person who was needy slowly started acquiring some wealth in that way. As such as this social welfare was good, it was disrupted by the capitalistic trends that emphasized individual ownership of property without caring about friends, relatives or neighbours. This again went contrary to the culture of the Babukusu and widens the gap between the rich and the poor in Bukusuland.

The colonial clause on land intimated that all Kenyan ethnic groups had to drop all claims to the land that was alienated by the colonial government, either given to the British settlers or treated as the Crown or Government land. It was further agreed that in independent Kenya, land could only be acquired through purchase. There were to be arrangements made for the Africans to purchase such lands from settlers. Funds on loan basis were provided by the British Government to the Kenyan Government through SFT to be used in enabling Kenyans buy back the alienated lands from white settlers who were to leave the country after independence or shortly before. This kind of setting, when one takes into account the nature of acute unequal development since colonial Kenya, was bound to pose tricky issues to the first post independence Kenya government right from 1963. How well such issues were to be addressed depended on the manner in which the culture of trans-ethnic nationhood was to be carried out. Indeed, trans-ethnic nationhood was important because the Kenyan territorial borders, like any other African country in the colonial period were drawn splitting various ethnic groups into different territories artificially. Naulikha added that divisional and location boundaries in Bukusuland posed a challenge as far as the handling of customary cases was concerned: For instance, if one clan was split into two or three divisions or locations it was difficult for several D.O’s or chiefs to meet as a panel and settle a clan dispute over land. According to the Babukusu, this was an anomaly that disrupted their culture during the colonial system. The Babukusu however, maintained their customary court at Sirisia where most convicts were those young men who forfeited payment of dowry to there in laws. Such people mostly comprised of young men who eloped girls without their parent’s permission. This was a common practice in the 1950s and 1960s when the customary procedure of marriage in Bukusuland was fast eroding. According to John Wefwafwa Sindani of Maraka Village of Bungoma County, interviewed on 11 November 2018, the Babukusu of Bungoma and Trans Nzoia had abandoned traditional clay and wood vessels and had fully adapted European utensils such as spoons, cups, plates, tin basins and so on. The usage of beds and chairs made of timber greatly increased in the 1960s; these replaced the traditional fashions. Blankets and bed sheets were widely being used instead of the traditional clothing and beddings that were obtained from animal skins and hides. Sindani added that skilled carpenters greatly increased in the villages of the Babukusu; while some leant carpentry in prisons, other learned through apprenticeship. Those artisans skilled in carpentry used their skill to earn a living because they sold their furniture to the villagers who viewed it as ushering them into modernity. The three-legged seat which was known as ‘endebe embukusu’ or Bukusu seat that was carved from a tree known as kumurembe was quickly disappearing from the home of the Babukusu in the 1960s. Sindani also stated that by early 1960s, the Bukusu language was changing: for instance, chicken were known by different colours such as embuusi or engokhakokhe (grey), embukulu (with white and black feathers), esanjari (with white and red feathers), embangabanga (with red feathers on the back and white feathers on the sides, chest and stomach). Cows also had colours esasake (mixture of black and white furs), emayemba (red and white furs) and eng’enda (furs of red and black strips). Goats also had colours which included ewanga(white) emali (black) emelamele(mixture of white and black or white and red furs). Even dogs had colours including ekupilia (light brown furs). These lubukusu colours were getting lost in the vocabulary of the Lubukusu.

It was evident within the confines of the British Empire that Kenya’s independence of 1963 was inevitable. The Babukusu of Bungoma were sure that Elijah Masinde’s notion of “free land” was a far-fetched notion that could not be practical as they had earlier expected. They had watched other tribes including the Maragoli rushing to purchase land in the White Highlands including Trans Nzoia. It was a high time they realized that they had to take drastic measures that would help them acquire land out of their motherland. The Babukusu began breaking away from the cultural belief that prohibited them from selling land. This belief was practical in the pre-colonial time because land was communally held and its distribution lay in the authority of the Council of Elders established by every clan. At this time however, this belief became impracticable because the colonial system had dismantled the communal land ownership and established individual ownership which created two classes of the landed and the landless in Bungoma. The Babukusu who were wealthy join hands with others of their status and sold land and other properties in Bungoma so that they could buy fertile land and practice mixed farming in Trans Nzoia. On the forefront of this idea, were Masinde Muliro and his fellow Bukusu elite who encouraged the Babukusu to buy land in groups rather than individuals. In 1964, the Babukusu woke up to reality and swung into action by flooding Trans Nzoia with money for buying land in groups. The pioneers of these were Johnstone Mabonga, James Wanyama, Alexander Ndemaki, Nahshion Watulo, Dickson Watuati and Justus Barasa Muresia who signed a Memorandum of Agreement of Sale on 21 December 1964 with L. Pratt Leach and G.N. Herbert to purchase 1,206 acres of land at Kiminini area of Trans Nzoia. The land was bought by a loan of Sh.168, 000 from AFC to which new shareholders added personal contributions to meet the total cost of 262,000. Development loans were acquired from LABK and Title Deeds were used as securities. This farm was known as Mbai Farm LTD. This title was derived from the ancient Mbai of the Banabayi who are believed to have been renamed Bukusu by the ancient neighbouring communities. Mbai Farm was mechanized with vehicles and dairy cattle. The owners of the farm maintained the colonial labour system where workers were paid wages according to the government scale. Each family received one bottle of saturated milk daily and posho once a week. On Christmas festive, a bull could be slaughtered and each family was given 2kg of meat and 1kg of sugar. This system of land ownership almost resemble the traditional land ownership, only that this new system favoured the fortunate few who operated on the principle of capitalism that was not favoured by the traditional system that was anchored on Bukusu socialism whose main pillar was the Economy of Affection. The settler workers of Mbai Farm did not benefit from land allocations after the departure of the white men in 1965. The Babukusu of Bungoma followed the same trend of establishing groups to buy land in Trans Nzoia. Masinde Muliro helped them by forming Trans Nzoia investment Company through which they bought large farms in Trans Nzoia which included Chebukaka, Lukosi, Kananachi, Lukesi and others in Trans Nzoia West; Sinoko, Ututu, Wekhoya, Yuya, Sinyereri, Bwake and others in Trans Nzoia East as well as Namanjalala, Bwayi, Nalulingo, Lunyu, Luya and others in Kwanza. The Bukusu culture then became blended with other cultures of other tribes that also settled in Trans Nzoia. The only cultural aspect that remained persistent was circumcision though the group that underwent the cut in hospital went on increasing year after year. Cultural links of the Babukusu of Trans Nzoia and Bungoma were still maintained. When need arose that needed the intervention of the diviners, the Babukusu of Trans Nzoia mostly visited diviners of Bungoma, their cradle land. When funerals occurred in either of the two jurisdictions; messengers were sent to deliver the messages to their relatives. The culture of extended families also prevailed in both jurisdictions. Herbalists who could not get certain herbs in his or her district, crossed over to the other to obtain them. The Lubukusu however, of the Babukusu of Trans Nzoia began to be intruded by Swahili words thus, causing some slight dialectic differences. Due to scarcity of secondary schools in Trans Nzoia, most of the children who completed primary education went to live with relatives in Bungoma while pursuing secondary education. Traditional education remained informal though much emphasis was laid on formal education.

It is worth to remember that Bungoma was established as the last supply stop on the Kenya portion of the railway line and it grew to be a District Administrative Center. At the time of Kenya's independence in 1963, Bungoma was still a very small town with only a few dozen shops, 20 to 30 homes for British colonial officers and a thriving weekly market for local farmers. As the population of the area continued to grow in the 1960s, Bungoma grew rapidly into a major town of about 60,000 residents with one of the highest birth rates recorded. It accommodated many schools and churches and later, a major sugar factory to process the locally grown sugarcane. There emerged in schools Boy Scout Troops, Girl Scouts, `4K Club' (analogous to the American 4H Club) and a number of football teams. Unfortunately, the town did not have good public services.

The 1960s saw the change of gender roles among the Babukusu: women who were previously custodians of domestic chores in terms of looking after children and property within the homesteads, now began active participation in all activities including those that were hitherto culturally preserved for men. The female dependants on male folks were gradually turning into self reliance in terms of social freedom and economic empowerment that was facilitated by small wealthy generating groups to which most women belonged and especially those in urban areas like Bungoma town. Unfortunately, social vices such as crime and prostitution became rampant in Bungoma Town contrary to Bukusu cultural norms. Family and traditional influence on individuals within the society were slowly losing grip as people advanced into modernity basic on the global argument that all people had the right to enjoy opportunities for education, profession and achievement. Soon after Kenya’s independence, the colonial mentality still lingered on and as such freedom to access European dominated areas was not yet fully enforced. Traditional religious influences on culture were fast declining especially in younger generation who detached from active participation in cultural religious practices like visiting shrines, observing religious rituals like animal sacrifices as well as neglecting religious regulations and behaving contrary to what the traditional religion of the Babukusu taught. Furthermore, respect towards traditional religious leaders was fast declining as attention was mostly directed to Church leaders who despised all other religions as “satanic works of darkness and wickedness”. The Bukusu elite of the 1960s including doctors, lawyers, architects, techno­crats, teachers and so on, developed their own micro-culture that separated them from the ordinary Bukusu villagers and place them in what they viewed as a “super class”; these people formed their own network of interaction that closed out those they thought were not well schooled. Due to their level of education, the elite also formed their own micro cultural class that discarded the Bukusu cultural beliefs practices as primitive and unfit for the learned. According to Samuel Mechi Masungo of Kibingei Village of Bungoma County, interviewed on 12 November 2018, when a teacher visited a family in the village, children ran to meet him and helped him to push his bicycle as they escorted him into the homestead with a lot of respect. The parents to the children went into expenses to make the teacher pleased: chicken could be slaughtered and a teacher was invited to a feast as one of the dignitaries who suffered to achieve the status he was in. If there were any letters in the home, the teacher was given to ride and interpret; his interpretation was final. If the family needed any advice, they asked the teacher to offer it. On departure, the teacher’s bicycle was loaded with gifts of diverse kinds. Masungo added to say that language also added to cultural differences: the elite spoke English and were feared and admired by those who heard them speak. They were praised in the Bukusu society and referred to as “babasoma” meaning “the educated”. They signified their status by putting a pen or two in the pockets of their shirts in a manner that exposed their lids. Their trousers were well ironed and shoes were well polished; they could not be compared in any way with ordinary villagers, some of whom wore tatters and walked barefooted. The elite referred to these ordinary villagers, especially school drop outs, as people whose English was of “yes” and “no”. Ladies who had gone to school, according to Masungo, wore beautiful dresses and used perfume that could not be afforded by ordinary villagers. Their houses were attractive because they were well furnished with expensive furniture that ordinary villagers could not afford. When ordinary villagers visited them, they stood outside because the houses were too clean for them to enter. In the pre-colonial Bukusu society, the traditional beer was made from sorghum and finger millet. A popular day for making beer was on market day when many people on their way home from the market dropped in at parties which they found on the way. People at these parties spoke Lubukusu and were at times entertained by musicians who play a fiddle or a harp and who sing traditional or topical and satirical songs. In the larger shopping centres, there were bars which sold bottled beer only. The staff consisted mainly of young women. Entertainment was provided often by people who played guitars or there was a record player (gramo-phone) that characterized the lifestyle of the 1960s among the Babukusu. People who go to these bars were normally much better off than the ordinary peasants. Most of them were teachers, policemen, chiefs and sub-chiefs, and medical assistants and nurses who worked in local health centres. These people liked to talk English at such occasions. Many of them were said to be proud people who did not show the ordinary civility that the common Babukusu expected. They also tended to intermarry. It was usual for female teachers and nurses to marry other teachers, clerks, health assistants and so forth. Economically, such families were important because they enjoyed a double income. There was no idea for women to give up paid employment when they got married. No Husband was expected to take another wife apart from the well educated first wife, because that could easily lead to divorce. Educated women were also against sharing a husband with co-wives. If such happened, they would easily break away from the marriage because they were economically independent.

Cash crops were first introduced in Bungoma District by the colonial administration in the 1920s. The first cash crop to be introduced was flat white maize (Zea Mays). However, during colonialism and especially in the 1960s, these two traditional staples declined in importance because the emerging educated Africans disdained their production. Maize which was in Bungoma and Trans Nzoia districts at the time became a very reliable option and hence increased beer brewing and consumption. Grinding of maize in the posho mills was also an easier task for women than stone grinding. The process of preparing it for kamalwa was less labourious and less time consuming. The preference of maize over sorghum and other traditional staples in the preparation of traditional beer and other dietary contexts represented cultural delocalization. This was due to changing attitudes and values of the Babukusu that had been transformed to the point where they associated maize with modernization and traditional staples with conservatism. This type of change in attitudes and values normally imposed negative effects beyond the mere substitution of one crop for another as it created a profound impact on family structure, female power, and previous rationale for reproduction. Hybrid maize which was originally introduced in Bungoma District in the 1960s became the staple subsistence crop of Babukusu. Later, of all the cash crops that were cultivated in the district, none had led to a significant number of social and economic changes in many households as had the sugarcane crop. This crop was made to compete with food crops for land allocation, time, money and labour and farm inputs. In a majority of cases, farmers devoted much more of their energies, time and money on sugarcane farming at the expense of food crops. In the pre-colonial era, agriculture was a means of subsistence where both women and men worked on the farms to produce their local staple crops using an exclusively traditional subsistence technology. The produce was then controlled by both genders, although women had the prerogative in the distribution of the major proportion of the produce and surplus. However, in the turn of events which included modern farming knowledge and new markets that were regulated by supply and demand due to increased population, farming activities in the 1960s were propelled by availability of wage labour and modern technologies. Additionally, the agrarian economy was transformed into a male-dominated monetary and national economy in which cash crops were grown for "outside" sale while women provided an asymmetrical share of the required labour. One serious consequence was that the previous prerogative of women controlling the major portion of the produce and surplus was lost entirely to men. Had economic times ushered on the market a new trade commodity which, in the past, was not for sale but for traditional functions or entertainment: This was the brewing and selling of diverse types of traditional brew to help families earn a supplementary income in addition to what was earned through farming activities. Indeed, traditional brew was the main stuff that the government fought hard by use of the police who intensified searching errands in the homes of the Babukusu. Those who were caught were either charged in a court of law especially if they failed to bribe the police officers. According to Jacton Khamala Kisaka of Bituyu Village of Bungoma County, interviewed on 13 November 2018, The 1960s therefore, saw police bribery as another disruption of the Bukusu culture that interfered with the execution of social justice in Bukusuland. He said that the policemen of that time wore shorts which allowed for free body movements especially after when chasing culprits for arrest. Notably, bribery later on escalated to many sectors of the independent African government to the extent that development projects could easily stole because a few individuals pocketed government money at the expense of tax payers in Bukusuland. At the village level, village elders worked with chiefs but ironically, while chiefs were on the government payroll, village elders were not recognized either by government as civil servants or by the Bukusu traditional society as servants of the people. These men who settle petty cases were forced by circumstance and nature to device their own mode of payment which was done in kind: Those found guilty were fined in terms of submitting substances to the village elders including cocks, foodstuffs or even money. This practice slowly developed into bribing the village elders to divert justice in favour of the corrupt villagers. Due to such malpractices, Bukusuland witnessed the guilty being freed and the innocent being punished through heavy fines for what they did not commit. Kisaka also asserted that there were cases of witchcraft which were taken to the village elders to settle. If one person had called the other a witch, he/she was called upon to substantiate the claim. Since establishing the truth about witchcraft was not easy, he/she was punished by a heavy fine and a witch was set free. Kisaka said that the pre-colonial Bukusu cultural trend of banishing witches and wizards from villages saw its end in the colonial times including the 1960s. Witches and wizards who would have hitherto been expelled from the Babukusu villages found a privileged position in society because they could not be expelled from the villages. According to Kisaka, government law was used to protect the good and evil doers in society alike. Since most clients of the village elders were women, most injustices went unchallenged basing on the cultural norm that women were to be submissive to men and that the same women could not attend the same gathering with men especially before the tribunal or sittings that discussed serious cultural issues like payment of bride price. If a woman claimed that her neighbour tamed a snake for witchcraft purposes, the village elder could ask herb to either produce that neighbour sake as evidence or face the consequences of a heavy fine. Due to fear that village elders would not be fair enough to either the accuser or the accused, Kisaka said many Babukusu settled their scores by depending on magicians who were believed to posses powers for punishing offenders through some sought of “remote control” which included sending of lightening to strike a bad neighbour, his property or a section of his home. If some property was stolen, threatening the surrounding neighbours that a magician would be consulted for execution of an appropriate was enough to make the thief quietly return the property to escape any harm that would be sanctioned by magical powers.

The aim of government since independence was to increase the control which the executive could exercise, while parliament tried to limit its discretionary powers. By 1969, the statutory obligations of the local authorities to provide education, health services and secondary roads were taken away from districts and given to the central government; there was little protest and much approval. Clearly, backbenchers could hope to exercise more influence now on spending of public funds in their constituencies. During the elections of 1969, the most serious threat to the position of politicians was the people connected with the County Councils. It also seemed that the interpretation of policies and decisions of the government to the people was done much more often and effectively through the provincial administrative hierarchy with its cadre of chiefs and sub-chiefs than through Members of Parliament. The Abaluyia expected to get two ministries which would have been advantageous to Masinde Muliro, if not the Bukusu. After the 1969 elections in which Otiende, minister for health from Maragoli was defeated, Muliro was the obvious candidate for the second Luyia post because he had been minister already, and because so much emphasis was put on burying old differences with politicians who had belonged to opposition parties. Generally speaking, those qualities which were being looked for in ministers and assistant ministers were also those which would have united leaders into tribal affiliation. A high level of education and a good performance as backbencher or member of the government appear to have been the criteria applied by many Bukusu in the 1969 elections, the first after the 1963 elections. They realized that MPs whose parliamentary performance would be bad would not be able to exercise much influence on their behalf. It was the expectation of the Babukusu of Bungoma that educated and influential politicians with bring them benefits to usher them into faster development than otherwise. Furthermore, educated politicians were looked upon to avail employment opportunities for the educated Bukusu youths in Bungoma and beyond. They believed that the expected positive changes could not be realized through non-Bukusu MPs. For this reason, they were delighted when Masinde Muliro won the 1969 parliamentary seat in Western or North Nyanza. Becoming a politician in Bukusuland was also viewed by the elite as a way of archiving rapid progress at individual level. In essence, ordinary Babukusu, the elite and politicians had expectations to either fulfill or be fulfilled and they all revolved around Economic Progress. This chance was enhanced by two other factors: Firstly, candidates who impressed the Babukusu subjects that he had an earnest desire to serve them had a higher chance of winning the elections than those who contested simply because an opportunity had arisen. Secondly, the members of the elite had sufficient resources to facilitate their campaigns compared to ordinary Babukusu candidates who entered the race with the hope of riding on the wings of sympathy into success. In essence, the Babukusu culture had totally changed from the pre-colonial monarchical setup to a democratic process that allowed for public participation. Thus, those who were successful in the 1969 elections included Munoko, Khaoya and Muliro, who were all re-elected and who became assistant ministers in Kenyatta’s government. Munoko had been assistant minister; Khaoya became assistant minister for the first time. It was not a surprise that all Bukusu MPs apart from Masinde Muliro came from good Christian homes. Politicians therefore, began to see the church as a vehicle for political success because through it, they could easily convince the followers to cast the votes in their favour because they were bound together by the spirit of brotherhood. Early and persistent commitment to Christianity gave children of the first generation of converts the chance to get better than average education in the forties and fifties and the opportunity to become members of the national elite in the sixties.

The most important consequence of continued commitment to Christianity was the impossibility to marry more than one wife. Here again, Christianity had caused direct interruption of the Bukusu culture where polygamy was esteemed because many wives and children did much work which resulted into more production of food for the family. Christians argued and convinced huge numbers of the Babukusu that instead of spending one's cows on marrying more wives, one could spend it on capital investment necessary for undertaking large scale maize farming which required trained teams of oxen, ploughs and carts as well as the employment of wage labourers. The Christian view continued to propose that one could also afford a better than average education for his children if they were intelligent enough and sufficiently motivated to take advantage of boarding school education along British lines. This situation was especially prevalent in the forties and fifties and consequently, the Babukusu who were most ready to take advantage of the new employment opportunities, and who belonged to the middle and higher social levels after independence, were in many cases children of good Christians who also became members of the new elite class in Kenya by 1970. Hence, it is evident that the colonial impact on the Bukusu culture had been so enormous to the extent that the Babukusu lost a big percentage of their pre-colonial cultural foundations within a span of seventy years that commenced in 1900 and ended in 1970. 23


In the colonial days, some Christians and the educated elite dismissed the sounding of cowbells and wearing of clothes inside-out by widows as a primitive practice. As a result of this condemnation, the behaviour started waning in the 1950s. It was now believed that the wails of the widows and those of close family members were enough to alert neighbours who joined them in the lamentation against the cruel hand of death. Young energetic men were then sent to inform relatives living far away about the death of their loved one. When they arrived, they broke the sad news after eating. Those who were living in urban centres were sent letters or telegrams. Sometimes, the letters reached them long after burial. However, in the Bukusu tradition, one is allowed to go and mourn even after burial had taken place. Although the Colonial Government banned circumcision songs and dances in 1937, Babukusu continued performing them. The newly circumcised boy, now referred to as omufulu, sat on a bench-like sit. Before the coming of Europeans, he sat on a log known as sichangi. However, the periods in which circumcision songs were performed changed in the colonial period. Traditionally, elders determined when initiation ceremonies were to be held. But with the introduction of Western education in the colonial period, the time to perform circumcision songs and dances was predetermined and specific. The circumcision practice had to conform to the national school calendar. It was necessary for them to be performed in the month of August of every even year when schools were closed. However, the month of August coincided with famine in Trans Nzoia. This situation forced the Babukusu of Trans Nzoia to include the month of December in their circumcision cycle because it coincided with harvesting which provided the initiates with adequate food supply. Circumcision songs that were performed in the evenings were seen as works of darkness. A circumcision song popular in the 1930s titled lulumbe (sickness), urged Babukusu to embrace Western medicine. Therefore, music became a tool through which Babukusu obtained information on the good things the Europeans had brought them. By 1950, missionaries had worked hard and succeeded to convince some of the Bukusu converts that circumcision done in hospitals was holier than traditional circumcision. However, the circumcising of boys in hospital was strongly condemned by traditionalists. Boys who underwent the cut in hospital under anaesthesia were dismissed as cowardly beings and were derogatorily referred to as “babacha khulupao” or those who went to the board. This was in reference to the wooden boards in hospitals on which boys lay as they were being circumcised. Realizing the danger hospitals posed to the initiation rite and in a desperate move to protect it, anybody who was circumcised in hospital was ridiculed in song during circumcision festivities. Such were also banned by elders from carrying out certain cultural activities including smearing a circumcision candidate with mud (khulonga). Those who were circumcised at the same time in accordance with Bukusu traditional norms referred to each other as Bakoki. But if one was circumcised in hospital, he was in the colonial period, barred from referring to members of his supposed age-group as bakoki and he never enjoyed or benefitted from their solidarity. Instead, he was ridiculed in song wherever he went and girls were discouraged from marrying him. The victim suffered psychological torture and earned a social stigma for he could not speak in public with the full force of his personality. Families that had embraced Western medical culture discontinued the practice of singing and dancing to circumcision songs. They instead took their boys to hospital for the cut. Undeniably, this reduced the opportunities Babukusu had to perform initiation dances and the sing of circumcision songs. The initiates who underwent the cut in hospitals were never subjected to traditional Bukusu initiation rituals such as being taken to the river to be smeared with mud before circumcision. After healing, they again escaped the traditional ritual that was performed by elders who came together to celebrate by eating and taking the traditional brew; instead, such Christian families dressed the initiates with new clothes, gave them advice and offered prayers to God for their protection.

The missionaries were the custodians of western civilization among the Bukusu people. They are the people who propelled social and cultural changes in Bukusuland. By introduction of the church in Bungoma, missionaries had brought an institution which ushered the Bukusu into a faithful community that gradually separated itself from the rest of the Bukusu brothers and sisters who did not toe the line. The bible was the main instrument of conversion and pacification. The primary goal of the colonial administration toward missionaries was the provision of protection especially among populations that were perceived as hostile and repulsive. They believed that the “Whiteman’s burden was to protect and uplift the native races and impart them civilization”. Christian missionaries were firmly rooted in Christianity in the sense that they saw other cultures as immoral and sinful and contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. They further believed that keeping quiet and allowing those cultures to continue being practiced was as sinful as participating in them. They preached against Bukusu songs and dance. Europeans did not understand what Bukusu songs meant, and therefore dismissed them as static noise.


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1 Sikolia, L. W. (2005). Kenyan societies in the 19th century: Social, Economic and Political Organization. Nairobi: Pavement Publishers.

2 Kakai, P.W. (2000). History of inter-ethnic relations in Bungoma, Mt Elgon and Trans Nzoia Districts, 1875-1997, (PhD Thesis). Nairobi: History Department, Kenyatta

3 Msaja, W. (2011). A History of the Bukusu. Nairobi: East African Publishing House.

4 Florence, N. (2011). The Bukusu of Kenya: Folktales, Culture and Social Identities. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic.

5 Were, G. S. (1967). A History of the Abaluyia of Western Kenya: C. 1500-1930.  Nairobi: East African Publishing House.

6 Makila, F. E. (1978). An Outline History of Babukusu of Western Kenya.  Nairobi:  Kenya Literature Bureau.

7 Chinua, A. (1958). Things Fall Apart. Johannesburg: Heinemann Publishers LTD

8 Asiegbu, U.J. (1984). Nigeria and its British Invaders. London: NOK Publishers International.

9 Salm et al. (2002). Culture and Customs of Ghana. London. Greenwood Press

10 Antubam, K. (1963). Ghana’s’ Heritage of Culture. Leipzig: Koehler & Amelang

11 Sewell, S. (2002). Literary Culture in Colonial Ghana: North America and the Philippines. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

12 Arhin, K. (2002). The Political Systems of Ghana: Background to transformations in traditional authority in the colonial and post-colonial periods. Accra: Historical Society of Ghana

13Mukenge, T. (2001). Culture and Customs of Africa: New York: Greenwood Press.

14Nevins et al. (2009). Democratic Republic of the Congo. New York: Cavendish Square Publishing.

15Nobles et al. (2005). Letter from King Leopold II of Belgium to Colonial Missionaries 1883. Politics Forum: Online Publication.

16 Indire et al. (2009). Our Lives Today. Nairobi: Oxford University Press East African LTD.

17 Tshekeisho, S. (1998). Native Life in South Africa. Gutenberg: Allen R. Light

18 Barnard, A. (1992). Hunters and headers of Southern Africa: A comparative Ethnography of the Khoisan peoples. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

19 Meredith, M. (1988). In the Name of Apartheid. New York: Harpers and Row Publishers.

20 Mezzana, D. (2002). African Traditional Religions and Modernity: African Journal.

21 Ocheni et al (2012). Analysis of Colonialism and its Impact in Africa. Anyigba: Kogi State University.

22 KNA/PC/NZA/4/4/78: Annual Report, Elgon Nyanza, 1961.

23 Wolf, J.J. (1971). Religious Innovation and Social Change among the Bukusu. PhD Thesis; University of London

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